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Judge’s fury as a father defies the authority of the court in a child maintenance application

“It is a wearily familiar syndrome normally practised by men who believe that their view of the justice of a situation should prevail over that of a court of law”

So said Mr Justice Mostyn in the course of his recent judgment in the case M v F, referring to the policy of non-engagement with the court adopted by the father in the case. I, too, am weary of reading of such cases, although thankfully I no longer have to actually deal with them myself.

I have said here on many occasions that if you are involved in family court proceedings you should engage with the court and comply with its orders and requirements. Failure to do so will only in the end work against you, no matter how strongly you feel that you are right and the court is wrong. Sadly, no matter how often I and many others repeat this message, there will always be some who think they know best.

M v F concerned (amongst other things) a child maintenance application by the mother, in a case where the children were resident in France and therefore child support was not available via the Child Maintenance Service. As indicated, the feature of the case, at least thus far as it is still continuing, is the behaviour of the father.

The judgment relates to a hearing on the 23rd of May, which Mr Justice Mostyn fixed to consider the questions of interim substantive maintenance whilst the case was continuing, and ordering the father to pay a further lump sum to cover the mother’s costs. Considering that it would be unfair to the father to ‘spring’ these matters on him at an earlier hearing dealing with another issue (at which the father had failed to attend anyway, in breach of the rules), Mr Justice Mostyn fixed the hearing on the 23rd of May. When doing so, he specifically ordered the father to attend the hearing on the 23rd of May in person.

The father again failed to attend and also failed to pay sums that Mr Justice Mostyn had ordered him to pay. He was therefore doubly in contempt of court.

Further, the father instructed his solicitors to write a final letter to the mother’s solicitors which stated that: “The father cannot afford to remain within these proceedings and therefore will be withdrawing from the proceedings.” As Mr Justice Mostyn pointed out, that was a flat lie. The father is an exceedingly rich man, having admitted to the court in a statement that the total resources potentially available to him were “around £100 million”. The letter also indicated that the father intended to relocate to America.

Mr Justice Mostyn said (and I will purposely quote this in full):

“It is obvious that the father has now decided to adopt a policy of non-engagement and has decided that he will defy the authority of this court. It is a wearily familiar syndrome normally practised by men who believe that their view of the justice of a situation should prevail over that of a court of law, and who engage in self-help with an arrogant and contemptuous disregard for the rule of law and the authority of the court. Time and again this syndrome is demonstrated, and time and again (although delays and expense are often incurred) the court’s order is, by virtue of reciprocal enforcement in other jurisdictions, almost invariably enforced.”

He went on to explain that the father’s ‘policy’ was not a recent development.

For example, he wrote this to the mother last autumn:

“If you take this matter to court, I will put up a severe and protracted fight and you will get the absolute minimum. Think it over. It will take a few years to play out. I will be unrelenting and highly motivated because your behaviour is deeply immoral and there is nothing I dislike more.”

As Mr Justice Mostyn said, the arrogance of such statements was remarkable, but: “one has seen these so often and the court always deals with them in precisely the same way. The court is not intimidated or overawed by aggressive, hostile, intimidating threats of this nature. The court is here to mete out justice and mete out justice it will, and ultimately, its orders will be enforced. Of that, there can be no doubt.”

In addition to the above, the father had filed a Form E financial statement that indicated, in complete contradiction to his earlier statement, that his assets were only worth some £9 million. The inevitable conclusion reached by Mr Justice Mostyn was that the contents of Form E were deliberately untrue.

In short, Mr Justice Mostyn found that the father was a man of great wealth who could well afford to support his children properly pending a final hearing. He, therefore, ordered him to pay, by 4pm on the 25th of May, arrears of child support of €74,000. He also ordered him to pay €100,000 expenses in relation to a rental property that would be obtained by the mother, and the sum of £215,000 in respect of future legal fees.

The moral is crystal clear: engage with the court and comply with its orders and requirements. The court knows best, not you. Failure to do as the court wills is unlikely to ultimately prevent the court getting its way. On the other hand, it is very likely to seriously damage your case and to cost you considerably, both financially and, where children are involved, in terms of your relationship with them.

You can read the full judgment here.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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  1. Fred says:

    “The Court knows best not you” – Except that it doesn’t, informed as it is by the biased professionals working in the industry, poor law, disjointed, broken process and mechanisms that are so bluntly inflexible, rigid and penal that the credibility of the system is largely defeated.

    Bottom line is that this is a broken system in which nobody holds much authority any longer. As the years of experience of the family court system wear-on, its deep flaws are obvious. Personally I would advocate a demonstration of wholesale contempt of the family justice system by Fathers and others who have their lives consistently undermined and put on-hold within a system in which they are largely treated with contempt; having to defend themselves against false allegations, being under constant suspicion and so forth.

    The Family Law system fails to protects Fathers rights to know their children yet at the same time expects Fathers to dutifully accept penury without complaint as a result of its decisions and inflexibility.

    Yet that same Family Law system is ruthless in its pursuit of maintenance. Nothing matters more seemingly.

    So if the Family Law system cares not a jot about Fathers, why should Fathers care a jot about it? In reality, this is regulation, not law. And poor regulation it is. I would personally support and encourage any Father who attempts to undermine the current modus-operandi of Family ‘Justice’ system and the myriad of professionals feeding off the misfortune of others. Slavishly following bad law is not how we move forward to a better more decent society.

  2. Paul Massey says:

    I wonder if fathers refuse to engage with the process when maintenance is the issue in the same way that some mothers refuse to engage where contact is the issue. In cash cases, the father usually has the ‘whip hand’ where with contact cases, the power lies with the mother.

    In essence, the concerns seem to be:

    1 The court’s failure to be robust in all matters;

    2 Our privileging, as a society, of cash over kids. When we get the kind of ruling re contact as the court gave us in White v White on the issue of cash, maybe we can make some progress. Let us hope the FNF initiative on Standing Temporary Orders gains some traction with the new President of the Family Division

  3. Terry james Scales says:

    The comment above is superb. The articles author makes my blood boil.

  4. spinner says:

    The institutionally sexist family courts do not deserve men’s respect or cooperation. If more men were brave enough to behave in this way then maybe the courts would be forced to change as they can’t jail everyone. It’s really not worth engaging with the courts as by any objective measure they will not give men a fair hearing, one example being, court orders relating to child contact, very rarely enforced against women, only in very extreme situations, court orders relating to finances, always enforced against men. Why are some people more equal in the eyes of the English family courts than other people because of some immutable physical characteristic? Fix that first then you can complain about men not engaging with the family courts.

  5. Andy says:

    That’s a full 100% from me…on prior comments.
    High time the cash cow father was treated fairly..
    It’s high time the law sorted the gold digger mothers out and instead of one way financial gain stop the free application for benefits if maintenance payments are made, not get paid for maintenance and all generous benefits if you fill the forms out correctly and of course all very honest.. Yea right.

    The law is a farce just ask any father who has fought for the right to see his children not just a long list of accusations by the mother of all attempts to win the fight….
    Nothing new even in this day and age.. High time this was sorted..

  6. BillyO says:

    As John And his “professional” colleagues are first and foremost officers of the court we wouldn’t expect him to write anything else would we.
    Why engage with such muppets?
    This man’s assets are out of the courts jurisdiction and he’s chosen not to engage with a quite clearly bias system.
    In my view he has done the right thing and based on my personal experience I would encourage any man in this position to do the same and don’t engage lawyers and courts especially if your assets are outside the jurisdiction.
    The judge can have all the tantrums he likes, people have a choice.
    The question he should be asking is why are men walking away?
    Who would attend a trial in a land where they are absolutely guaranteed an unfair outcome?
    It’s not rocket science.

  7. Fred says:

    … and the issues are global in nature. It’s great to see that your status as a Father is respected when it is convenient to the state – i.e. when they want to drag cash out of you – but when inconvenient to the state – i.e. when you might need a little help yourself or want to maintain you relationship with your children against the Mother’s poisonous, abusive, antics – then your status as a Father magically disappears.

    We then have a child maintenance system that takes no account of circumstances or costs, that gives Fathers no assurances that profound sums of money taken off them (remember we now have this dimwitted, conceived by a moron, Gross based system – you want to go there, let’s have tax relief please), is going to help their kids. No doubt many readers of this will be familiar with Mothers sending the kids with ill-fitting, dirty clothes or inadequate clothing for the event while they witness entitled, embittered Mothers taking foreign holidays, going to restaurants and so forth.

    The court and the Family Law system needs to examine itself and examine the outcomes of its decisions. Across the system we have failures be it the HcPC (whose governance role is disastrous – see PSA results into this organisation, failing on 6 out of 10 standards within its Fitness to Practice process). The scenes I have seen in terms of professionalism among social workers and psychologists are awful. I’d go as far as to say these so called professionals are little more than duplicitous self-serving frauds — particularly the psychologists. A desperately untrustworthy and arrogant collection of people, biased, lazy and greedy, ruining the lives of children and their Fathers while regulatory functions stand by and let it all go on. Nobody can be trusted within the Family business.

    Fundamentally, Family Law is undermining marriage and natural human relationships. Mad is the fool who chooses to do so in this climate.

    Mr Justice Mostyn can blow his top as much as he likes, but the reality is that he is sitting at as a keystone in a system that has failed that is causing harm, which does not achieve good outcomes and consequently is deserving of no respect. If Mostyn wants Rule of Law and respect in his courtroom, perhaps he should campaign for functional, fair law and to ensure that he metes out his judgement in an equally fair way. Stomping around being pompous about matters (as the author does here) isn’t likely to curry any additional respect.

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